US Marine Scout Sniper Team, Task Force Tarawa, Battle of Nasiriyah, Iraq, 2003
US Marines Scout Sniper
Scout Snipers are Infantry Marines skilled in long-range marksmanship from concealed locations. Their primary mission is to conduct close reconnaissance and surveillance operations in order to gain intelligence on the enemy and the terrain. Scout Snipers must earn the rank of Lance Corporal and be selected by their battalion in order to move into this specialty.
Requirements vary by battalion, but riflemen who qualify may be selected for training after successfully completing a two-week indoctrination course. After several weeks of initial training, they may still need to pass the Scout Sniper Basic Course at Quantico, Va. to earn a position in a Scout Sniper platoon.
A Scout Sniper platoon works directly for the battalion commander. They may be tasked to provide support to maneuver units or may operate separately.Scout Snipers include:
Spotter: Detects, observes and confirms sniper targets, calculates the range and wind conditions on a given target, conducts reconnaissance and surveillance.
Sniper: Delivers long-range precision fires on selected targets, conducts reconnaissance and surveillance.
Battle of Nasiriyah
On March 23rd, 2003, when Marines from Task Force Tarawa approached the dusty town of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, they were tasked to take two key bridges to open up a route to Baghdad, a seemingly routine maneuver. Nasiriyah was a town that rebelled against Saddam Hussein during Gulf War 1 and US intelligence had suggested that as soon as the Americans rolled into town, the city’s defenders would lay down their weapons and, as one Marine commander expressed it, “put flowers in our gun barrels, hold up their babies for us to kiss and give us the keys to the city.”
- Nasiriyah was a major population center and was situated at a confluence of all the Army and Marine forces going into Iraq. A railroad, several highways, and two major waterways converged in or around the city. There were two sets of bridges, or “crossing sites,” in Nasiriyah. These bridges spanned the Euphrates River in the southern section of the city, as did the Saddam Canal, which ran along its northern border. The western bridge over the Euphrates (the “southwestern bridge”) and the western bridge over the Saddam Canal (the “northwestern bridge”) were at either end of a route that would take vehicles through the most built-up, densely populated sector of the city. There was a risk that securing those bridges might involve the task force being drawn unnecessarily into intense urban fighting. Instead, Task Force Tarawa was to seize the eastern bridge over the Euphrates (“southeastern bridge”) and the eastern bridge over the Saddam Canal (“northeastern bridge”). Connecting these two bridges was a stretch of road four kilometers long that Army planners had nicknamed “Ambush Alley” based on the possibility of an ambush of any Coalition forces attempting to use it. Despite the foreboding moniker, few expected determined enemy resistance in Nasiriyah. Source. Images from public sources
But when Task Force Tarawa’s lead units reached the outskirts they came across the burnt out remnants of several vehicles of the US Army’s 507th Maintenance Company. A captain in the 507th told wide-eyed Marine commanders how his convoy had taken a wrong turn at night, driven into Nasiriyah and been attacked by Iraqi fighters. Eleven soldiers of the the ill-fated US 507th Maintenance Company were killed that morning, with five captured including a young army private, Jessica Lynch and a dozen more injured.
Tim Pritchard, author of Ambush Alley writes:
As Marine units moved into Nasiriyah they were attacked by massed numbers of Iraqi fighters. To the surprise of Marines on the ground, few of the Iraqi combatants seemed to be wearing military uniforms. Many were dressed in the distinctive black pyjamas worn by Shia moslems and much of the gunfire came from dwellings flying black flags denoting them as Shia homes. And yet the Shias were supposed to be on the Americans’ side.
What’s more, as the Marines were drawn into a raging battle in the city center, more and more people seemed to come out of ordinary homes to take up arms. One group of young Marines, who became separated from the rest of their unit and were forced to commandeer a house in the middle of the city, found themselves under attack for several hours from what appeared to be armed civilians. They had been expecting to fight Iraqi soldiers. Instead they found themselves shooting at old men, women, even children.
Of course there were fanatical Sunni fedayeen troops and desperate foreign fighters who fought that day. But some of those who picked up weapons were also civilians intent on defending homes against foreign invaders. The potent and complex mix of insurgency; Sunni and Shia militants, foreign fighters and civilians, that causes such chaos in Iraq today, was already apparent during the battle of Nasiriyah.
Intelligence about the terrain was also sorely lacking. Marine tanks spearheading the maneuver took a route that led to a marshy bog where they sank, mired uselessly in thick mud, while the battle raged. It’s more than just a metaphor for coalition forces getting bogged down, post-invasion, in towns like Fallujah and Samarra. It was the product of a rush to arms without adequate intelligence or planning.
But what was most striking at Nasiriyah in those very early days of the war was the absence of that grand coalescence of freedom deprived Iraqis who were to come forward and support coalition forces. At best, civilians stood by and watched the American war machine thunder into town. At worst, they ran to arms staches, grabbed AK47s and took to the streets. And that did not bode well for life in post-invasion Iraq. Instead of coming together, Iraqis would fall back into their faiths and tribes and end up killing coalition forces, and each other.
Eighteen Marines died in Nasiriyah that day in what turned out to be the bloodiest phase of the Iraq war. Four days later the city was finally declared secure. One week after that, American forces triumphantly entered Baghdad and helped topple Saddam’s statue. Everyone lauded the speed and efficiency with which US forces had fought their way to Baghdad. And the trauma of Nasiriyah was forgotten.
And that was a shame. If the intelligence from Nasiriyah had been gathered, recognised, and analysed more soberly early on, instead of trampled on in a rush of triumphalism, the lessons learned might have shown coalition forces a more realistic approach to the challenges of stabilising and rebuilding Iraq. Instead, we got a hubristic speech from President Bush from the deck of the USS Lincoln where he announced the end of major combat operations against the backdrop of a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.”